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Parties Mediate Lawsuit to Reform Washington State’s System for Providing Children’s Mental Health Services

The parties to TR v. Dreyfus, a class-action lawsuit seeking to ensure poor children’s access to adequate mental health care in their homes and communities, are in mediation in an effort to reach a settlement. The parties have had six sessions since January, working to address issues raised by plaintiffs. Plaintiffs are seeking consistent statewide access under Medicaid to intensive home and community-based mental health services, which requires systemic changes in Washington’s mental health delivery system. The mediators in the case, which were agreed upon by both sides, are professional mediator Teresa Wakeen of Seattle-based Wakeen & Associates and Kathleen Noonan, a clinical associate law professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School and a children’s public health and child welfare expert. The next mediation session is scheduled for early May.

The lawsuit was filed Nov. 24, 2009 against the Department of Social and Health Services by the National Center for Youth Law, Disability Rights Washington, Perkins Coie LLP, and the National Health Law Program on behalf of children and youth with serious mental health issues. The 10 named plaintiffs, all under age 21 and diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression or other serious mental illness, claim they are unable to get needed services from the State’s mental health system. Plaintiffs also say that Washington fails to provide intensive, home- and community-based mental health services, resulting in significant harm from repeated hospitalizations, incarcerations, separation from family, and social isolation.

Plaintiffs claim the Department’s actions violate the Medicaid Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the 14th Amendment, which require the Department to arrange mental health services for Medicaid-eligible children and youth. Plaintiffs say that the Department has known for years that its mental health system has significant deficiencies resulting in high demand for long-term psychiatric facility and hospital placement.

(The Impact Fund has provided a $10,000 grant to help cover mediation and other expenses connected to the case. See related story.)

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